We came across this marvellous material developed by Raul Polit Casillas for Nasa.
Raoul grew up around fabrics. His mother is a fashion designer in Spain, and, at a young age, he was intrigued by how materials are used for design.
Now, as a systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, he is still very much in the world of textiles. He and his colleagues are designing advanced woven metal fabrics for use in space.
These fabrics could potentially be useful for large antennas and other deployable devices, because the material is foldable and its shape can change quickly. The fabrics could also eventually be used to shield a spacecraft from meteorites, for astronaut spacesuits, or for capturing objects on the surface of another planet. One potential use might be for an icy moon like Jupiter's Europa, where these fabrics could insulate the spacecraft. At the same time, this flexible material could fold over uneven terrain, creating "feet" that won't melt the ice under them.
"We call it '4-D printing' because we can print both the geometry and the function of these materials," said Polit Casillas. "If 20th Century manufacturing was driven by mass production, then this is the mass production of functions." Fabricating spacecraft designs can be complex and costly, said Andrew Shapiro-Scharlotta of JPL, whose office funds research for early-stage technologies like the space fabric. He said that adding multiple functions to a material at different stages of development could make the whole process cheaper. It could also open the door to new designs. "We are just scratching the surface of what's possible," Shapiro-Scharlotta said. "The use of organic and non-linear shapes at no additional costs to fabrication will lead to more efficient mechanical designs." The space fabrics have four essential functions: reflectivity, passive heat management, foldability and tensile strength. One side of the fabric reflects light, while the other absorbs it, acting as a means of thermal control. It can fold in many different ways and adapt to shapes while still being able to sustain the force of pulling on it. The team not only wants to try out these fabrics in space someday, they want to be able to manufacture them in space, too.